When we knew we were going to visit Las Vegas last fall, we asked our readers about places we should visit and Mary Lee C. mentioned that we should visit The Neon Museum. Located just a short distance from the classic Las Vegas hotels on Fremont Street, the museum, founded in 1996, is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment. Besides that, they have a big bunch iconic neon Las Vegas signs on their lot and Mary Lee knew that was right in our tacky tourist sweet spot.
The museum does tours in the daytime and the evening but we knew that even in October we didn’t want to be walking around outside during the day in the Vegas heat. I booked our nighttime tour as soon as they opened up reservations, which is usually about a month or so ahead of time. One advantage of the nighttime tour is that a few of the signs have been restored to their full neon splendor that can only be appreciated at night. The museum also does their best to show the rest of the signs in the evening by utilizing creative lighting schemes. Tours can fill up quickly around popular times and the groups they allow at each time are rather small, so if you want to visit it pays to book as soon as possible. The cost of tours vary by about $20, depending on the season and time of day. They also sell a combo ticket with the Mob Museum – our Uber driver raved about how wonderful that is.
The Neon Museum
770 N Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89101
When you arrive at the museum, you check in for your tour inside the iconic lobby building of the La Concha Hotel.
This structure, originally built in 1961, was saved from demolition in 2005 and was later moved to the site of the Neon Museum where it now serves as the check in area and gift shop. The designer of this building, Paul R. Williams, also was part of the team that designed the theme building at Los Angeles Airport.
You then gather to meet your tour guide and are given the rules and warnings about the tour. These are old metal signs with sharp edges. Don’t touch anything. Take as many pictures as you want but be sure to keep up with the group. Sensible warnings because you are going to be walking around a dirt lot in the dark. You’re also invited to play a game during the tour to take pictures of letters in the signs that will spell out something important to you. If you had a hard letter to find, like a Q or Z, the guide made sure to point those out as we went along.
The tour through the Neon Boneyard was a winding path that worked its way from one end the other, around and then back again. The signs weren’t in chronological order but the tour guide did try to tell what the significance of each sign was in relation to the evolution of Las Vegas.
They had iconic signs like the Golden Nugget sign from Fremont Street
And a sign that was from Binion’s Horseshoe
As well as some old signs from when neon first came to Las Vegas
The tour also told about the art of making neon signs and showed off several examples from the “golden age” of signs. The top of the sign from the Yucca Motel and the sign from the Liberace Museum were the fanciest things we’d see on the tour.
The only sign in the Boneyard that had been received in totally working condition was the one from Fitzgerald’s Casino:
By far, the largest exhibit at the museum can’t be appreciated from the ground.
Any ideas? I’ll give you a hint with a satellite view of the boneyard:
If you figured it out, congratulations. It’s the skull from the Treasure Island sign.
With the overhead view, you also get an idea of the path through the boneyard. Towards the end of the tour, you get to see some of the most iconic signs from hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.
Being surrounded by the legacy of Las Vegas was a lot of fun and it was an amazing tour. Every era was represented from the very beginnings to the recent past. Seeing the signs at night, as they were intended, was an extra treat but there are so many signs not lit that you’d probably get to appreciate more of them in the daylight. When I was reading reviews. there are fans of both tours and I think all of them are correct. Whether going on a day or night tour, a trip to The Neon Museum is a must see if you’re a real fan of Las Vegas.
A huge thank-you to Mary Lee C., who recommended we go here because she knew we’d like it. Mary Lee, we hope y’all make it there one of these days!
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